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Angiograms – What Are They Used For?

Angiograms are x-ray diagnostic tests that use a specialized dye and fluoroscope to take pictures of blood flow inside an artery or vein. These tests are used to look at the arteries and veins inside the hands, head, arms, legs, chest, back, and stomach.

Angiograms can also look at the arteries next to the heart, lungs, brain, neck and aorta.


How the Procedure Works

During the angiogram, a catheter is placed into the blood vessel inside the groin or above the elbow. This catheter is then guided toward the area that needs to be studied. Once it arrives at its destination, a dye (known as contrast material) is injected into that vessel so that the area is illuminated clearly on the x-ray.

A properly conducted angiogram can uncover bulges in blood vessels (aneurysms), show blockages, reveal whether a coronary artery disease is present, and throw light on the extent of that disease.

During the procedure, you will be lying on your back on an x-ray table. You may have a strap used to keep your body still during the procedure and a lead apron may be placed around your genitals or pelvic region to protect from x-ray exposure.

The entire process can take one to three hours.


Why Are Angiograms Done?

The reasons an angiogram are ordered can vary, but most commonly they are ordered to:

  • Detect issues within the vessels and arteries that are affecting blood flow
  • Identify changes inside vessels and arteries due to injury or damage
  • Look at the pattern of blood flow for a tumor
  • Show the number, location and condition of the renal arteries before a transplant
  • Find the source of a bleed, such as in the case of an ulcer
  • Prepare a patient for surgery on the blood vessels of the legs, such as those suffering from peripheral arterial disease
  • Determine how severe atherosclerosis is in a case of coronary artery disease.

Typically, angiogram results are received the same day the procedure is performed and they will either be ruled as “normal” or “abnormal.” When a test comes back abnormal, it could mean that blood vessels are not in the proper position, a narrowing was detected, a bulge was detected, the dye leaked (indicating a hole) or there is an abnormality in the pattern of vessels.

Depending on your current health, your specialist may order additional tests to further conclude the findings of the angiogram, including an MRA, CT scan or blood tests.